Horrific Acts of Violence
It’s a nice day, so I’m sitting out on the front porch. The dog is sitting next to me, surveying the street without comment. He only speaks if someone walks by with another dog, then he allows himself a quick ‘ruff’. I tell him to shut up and he ignores me.
The other night I went and saw ‘Django Unchained’. I guess I enjoyed it—but afterwards, I felt disturbed. I haven’t been able to pinpoint the reason. In the main, it was a revenge movie with slavery as the backdrop. Maybe that felt kind of cheap? Nobody would question the motivations of Django or even his method of revenge. But the character that most intrigued me was the bounty hunter, Dr. King. He was a white man who had no problem killing other white men as long as they had been convicted of capital crimes and had a government bounty placed on their head. But during the course of the movie, Dr. King witnesses many horrific acts of violence inflicted upon slaves, all under the sanction of legal slave-ownership. These things clearly affect him much deeper than the crimes committed by his bounties, but they are not considered illegal and none of the perpetrators have been charged, much less convicted. So his dealings with slave owners, taking place within the legal framework of the time, forces him to question his perception of himself as a man of justice. He knew slavery was wrong and brutal, but without a legal framework to direct his actions he was forced to fall back upon his own sense of ethics. This led to his actions near the end of the movie and in turn brought about the full resolution.
I’ve heard many comments about the violence, how terrible it was. I’m curious about this. Yes, it is a terribly violent movie. But I noticed that its depiction of violence toward slaves was shown in a naturalistic manner, and much of it off-screen. In other words: not sensationalized. On the other hand, any time a white person is killed—especially slave-owners and –supervisors—the special effects and prosthetics experts pull out all the stops. The amount of blood flying around is ridiculous. In this light, the movie is not just about revenge, but about white people in the audience feeling better about themselves. “Yes!” I heard myself saying. “Kill those bad white people! Make it hurt!” At the end of the movie, I felt like a better white person for having rejoiced in the death of bad men. The white Southern men in ‘Django Unchained’ serve the same purpose as do the Nazis in ‘Inglorious Basterds’. Their job is to die a brutal, bloody death—and our job is to absolve ourselves by cheering.